What is the difference between editing and proofreading?
This is kind of a trick question, because there is more than one type of editing and definitions vary. It can be confusing. It’s important to ask just what someone means by the terms they’re using when it comes to what kind of editing they do.
One common form of editing is “developmental editing,” also sometimes called “substantive editing” (though others use that term differently) or “deep edits.” It involves steering the direction of your story, creating or developing your characters, and sometimes reworking your manuscript completely.
Nearly every book that’s published by a traditional publishing house will go through developmental editing. It’s one of the things that makes self-publishing so appealing to so many authors.
I don’t like “developmental editing.” To me, it usually means the story is no longer the writer’s story; it’s a mix of the writer’s story and the editor’s story. I’ve known a lot of writers who feel like their books aren’t even their books anymore after they’ve been through the hands of developmental editors. The writers are disillusioned, and some never write again. Do some people need that kind of help? Yes. Do I like to do it? No. I prefer to work with a manuscript that’s been developed already.
Copyediting or line editing
The kind of editing I like to do (and that everyone needs) is called “copyediting” or “line editing.” Some classify line editing as developmental editing. The differing definitions make it imperative to clarify with each editor you contact exactly what they do.
When I edit, I make changes at the sentence level, making sure the writing is clear and says what the writer is trying to communicate. I make sure it’s free from mechanical and usage errors such as subject/verb agreement, and also look for continuity errors and consistency of style. Fiction and nonfiction both get copy edited.
According to 2013 Writer’s Market, the industry standard (aka the “going rate”) for copy editing as of 2013 is a minimum of $2,000 per project and an upper end of $5,500 per project. Some editors charge less than the market standard, just as in any field, and it could be for any of a number of reasons. It might mean that they aren’t very good, but that’s not always the case. Asking for before-and-after samples, or asking for references can help determine if an editor is good.
Proofreading, which every piece of writing needs, is looking for and correcting small errors such as typographical errors, mistakes in spelling and usage. Some proofreaders also catch continuity errors. There is a bit of overlap between copy editing and proofreading. Some people think they are the same thing, but they’re not. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one person who does both jobs, for the same price. The “going rate” as of 2014 is $2.00-$5.00 a page for proofreading.
Hiring an editor
The writer/editor relationship can be a dream or a nightmare. I rarely hear anyone say their experience was in between those two extremes. In any case, there will be some tough moments to work through. It’s a lot easier if you know that your editor really cares about you and your writing.
Rebekah Hughes, James Woosley, and Archpriest Michael Keiser are among the authors for whom I was a good match, and we formed wonderful working relationships based on trust and gentle-but-clear communication. It made the process better for each of us, and I’m looking forward to editing their next books. Rebekah and James have given me testimonials (Father Michael is far too busy as new head of the missions department for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, so I haven’t asked him to write one, though choosing me to edit his book may be testimonial enough).
Knowing the difference between editing and proofreading can save you embarrassment and cost. It’s important to ask the professional you’re discussing your project with what definition they use, so you know what you’ll be getting. It’s also important to make sure you have a good fit with that editor. Asking a lot of questions and asking to speak with people they’ve worked with before will help.